Let's say you've written a book and had two offers for publication. One's from a hardcover publisher, and the contract's for $10,000. (Just using some hypothetical round figures here.) You're practically guaranteed reviews in the major publications, you'll have a lot of library sales.

The other offer's from a paperback house. $15,000. No reviews in PW or Booklist, no library sales.

Which offer do you take? Why?

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If it's St. Martin's I'd take the PB deal because SMP is known for throwing lots of hardcovers against the wall and seeing what sticks

An interesting image of editors being surprised to find that HCs have no sticking power whatsoever...

The good thing about SMP, however, is that they're the most likely company to publish an unknown and they put together a quality product. The artwork is first rate and the power of that is enormous. People buy shiny things, and I've certainly turned away from a lot of books with less than stellar covers.
It does seem, from the numbers, that the pb print run would be larger, which means that the publisher expects to sell a whole lot more of them. Putting ego aside, I think I'd go for the pb offer. The end product costs less, which would encourage more people to take a chance on it.

But then, I've never been faced with that particular dilemma, so what do I know? ;)
The thing is, I can see both sides of this. So far, nobody's been tempted only by the money.
Looking at the money alone is shortsighted. I lean to Ray's side, but in reality there isn't enough information to make a solid decision. It would depend on whether the rights being purchased were US, NA, world English or worldwide. For example, $10,000 on a hardcover deal for world English or worldwide rights isn't as much of a risk - the publisher can earn that back through international sales.

The reality is that library sales in the US alone I'm told can amount to as many as 25,000 copies. Now, I was told that by an author I trust who knows more about the business than I do, so I don't have a source for that and could stand corrected. But even at a third of that, that's more than 8000 copies, and off hardcover sales that should be your advance outearned and then some. The key is getting those industry reviews that will lead to the library sales, and being carried in store. This is where the name of the publisher may factor in. If it's a small, unknown it will be harder to get carried and get sales and get reviews...

If you have options, you have a lot to think about, particularly if you're a debut author. It's undoubtedly true that it's often easier to persuade a reader to take a gamble on the paperback instead of the hardcover, but the review factor has to be considered.

And, as Ray also said, if you get a hardcover deal and do decently odds are good someone will pick up the paperback deal.
The reality is that library sales in the US alone I'm told can amount to as many as 25,000 copies

I'd say this is off by a factor of about ten. No wait. What's a factor of ten?

For most authors in the US, library sales will amount to 2 to 5,000. Bestsellers, of course, can sell many more to libraries but the fact that they're bestsellers probably means they're not all that interested in this market. I think there are about 5,000 libraries in the US total.

As for HC leading to PB, I thought that when my first book came out. Four years later, it worked out. Generally, however, there are a lot of good authors who never get picked up on the PB side.

For the beginning author, I think there is a lot more room to grow when you come in from the PB side of things. When you're published in HC first, the print run may well be small, you may be unmarketed, and you may not get prime spots in terms of store display. Great reviews will help...if the readers can find your book. Then, regardless of how little exposure you've gotten from the HC edition, the PB edition will not be considered a feat at all. People expect it. Most readers assume the author has the power to conjure up a pb deal if the book is at all good.

When my first book came out in 2002, I got about a half dozen pieces of fan mail. When it was reissued as a pb in 2006, I got about fifty. The local supermarkets had it on display at the checkout register. Most of my new readers found the book in their local drugstores or in supermarkets. That's exposure I never got with the HC and my publisher would have to pay for at a Borders or BN.

If you're thinking of a career in writing - a book every year or so - then I'd say PB is the way to start. Once you're a known quantity to readers, follow up with HC.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that there's an extra 5k in that direction in this scenario.
Good points as well... Let's take the mid-point for your projected library sales. 3,500. That still accounts for a big chunk of that advance.

Next thing to consider is the collector equation. There are some people who deliberately collect those hardcovers, and works by debut authors.

I am personally not as bothered by format of a book as some people, but I do have friends who insist on staying with the same format by an author, so if they start with them in mmpb if the author moves to hardcover they won't follow. And most of those people hate trade. Don't ask me to explain it- I just accept that that's their opinion as consumers. My one friend (who works for a publisher in NYC) told me "trade depresses me."

It is definitely true that the paperback release can push you to a wider audience, get you in drug stores and grocery stores, etc. However, I'm not sure I'd take fan mail as an assessment of readership - I would go with sales. I've easily had more than 50 pieces of fan mail off SC in 4 months of release in hardcover from a publisher that doesn't know their head from a hole in the ground, do anything to inspire bookstores to carry the book.

Having good reviews and a readership seems to only be good for my ego, though.

And anyway, as I said originally, there are still too many unknowns. It depends on what rights the publisher has.

For me, this is a situation where I would take it case by case. I've certainly sung their praises for other things elsewhere, but Orion is one of the smart publishers that actually puts works out in hardcover and trade simultaneously - at least in Canada you can get both versions when the new Rankin comes out. They understand that there are different markets for them, and one does not necessarily hinder sales of the other. I would rather have all my Rankin books in hardcover, although most aren't, because I came to the series late. If I could go order them all now in hardcover and rebuild my collection I would.

When it comes to market variables there's no accounting for weirdos like me.
I was curious about the numbers of libraries (I had heard that it was about 8,000.)

According to this, there's about 9,000-10,0000 (including branches within the same library system)--


Wow, more than 90,000 school libraries! No wonder the juvenile and YA market depends so heavily on school libraries. Interesting.

Anyway, to sell 5,000 books to libraries is phenomenal and is greatly aided by your publisher's push into the library market. And as Robin mentioned below, libraries do buy plenty of mass market and trade paperbacks. You can, in fact, garner plenty of reviews with trade paperback originals--although it is indeed difficult to snag Library Journal reviews.

No doubt--the best case scenario would be to publish in hardcover, get wonderful reviews and buzz, go into multiple printings and get a paperback deal a year later. Along the way, secure translation and audio deals. But it's not a given. In my former pre-publishing naivete, I thought all books followed this path. I didn't even know what a paperback original was.

As other people have alluded, many different factors come into play in making this HC/PBO decision. There's no guarantee of success or failure with either approach; you just have to understand who you are selling to.
Paperback, either trade or mass market. It's hard to convince consumers to spend more than 20 bucks (or 15 bucks for that matter) on an unknown commodity. In terms of promotion, you'd probably have to spend more money to ensure sales of that hardcover (touring independent mystery bookstores throughout the nation). Soon that whole 10 grand (minus 15 percent) is gone and then some.
I have to agree, too many unanswered questions. New author or not? And as Bryon said, what house?

Just on the info given, I'd go paper, because you get 5k more. In this market, both deals have a bigger chance of not making the sell-through, so you'd be 5k ahead. Is it worth sacrificing 5k for some critical reviews? Or 5k for the ego boost of having that hardcover, or hitting the libraries (which do buy paperback, incidentally)? Not according to my checkbook.
Hardback, for all the reasons you've mentioned.
As William Carlos Williams pointed out "a lot depends." While the PB means fewer reviews, it represents many more readers - I think of it this way. The advance is the publisher's bet about how many sales they'll be able to make off your title. The PB publisher thinks they can get you about 30,000 readers at fifty cents per. The HC publisher thinks they can get you 5,000 readers at $2 per. At this point in my career, I've had the reviews, but not the readers. I'd go with the PB publisher. In fact, I'd go with them even if the money were even.

On the other hand, I was terrible at math in high school.
Having recently said yes to the hc deal, I'm hoping Sandra Ruttan is right. Yes, it's hard to get a consumer to plunk down $20 bucks on an unknown but my - dare I say it - strategy is to do a lot of regional, and affinity promotion (I'm a gardener, and write garden-related mysteries) as well as library promotion. Library sales can make or break a first-timer.
I know it's late, but congrats to Naomi for the Edgar for Best PBO, Snakeskin Shamisen.


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